The renewed interest by the JHU to proceed with the proposed anti-conversion bill and certain news reports have created much interest in this issue and fuelled many rumours. We write to keep you informed of the recent developments, action that NCEAL has been taking and what we propose to do together with you to address this challenge.
The initial agitation for anti conversion laws to be implemented began in 2003. Since then, for the past 6 years, the NCEASL has been carefully monitoring several moves to introduce legislation curbing religious activity. We have consistently challenged each of these moves prayerfully and strategically, through legal action, lobbying, awareness campaigns etc.
We regret that we cannot disclose fully, in an open letter such as this, all the actions that we have taken and are continuing to take. However, we will share with you the main actions. If you would like to know more or get involved to a greater degree, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.
What is the anti-conversion bill? – a chronology of events
§ The ‘Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion’ was first tabled in Parliament in 2004, as a Private Member’s bill, proposed by a Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero M.P. of the JHU.
§ In August 2004, The NCEASL and other Christian groups and denominations and civil rights organizations challenged the bill before the Supreme Court where it was held to be valid, except for 2 clauses which were deemed un-Constitutional.
§ Thereafter the Bill went through the 2nd Reading and was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for discussion and remained in Committee stage for a lengthy period of time. In May 2006, NCEASL made representations to the Standing Committee, giving reasons why this Bill should not be implemented. A petition with over 60,000 signatures was also handed over to the Standing Committee.
§ In November 2008, the Standing Committee concluded their meetings and discussions on the bill, fuelling rumours that the bill was passed by Parliament.
§ On the6th of January 2009, the report, recommendations and minutes of the Standing Committee were tabled in Parliament.
§ On the same day, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress launched their Commission Report on Unethical Conversion of Buddhists to religions. This voluminous document contains highly inflammatory material and allegations against the Christian community. The timing of this report is set to gear support for the proposed bill.
§ The Commission was established in 2006 and held hearings during that year. NCEASL monitored these proceedings and compiled an initial report which was circulated among the NCEASL Governing Council and other relevant officials.
§ The next step, with regard to the anti-conversion bill is that it will be debated in Parliament and then taken up for voting, where the amended draft can be passed by a simple majority vote. It is likely that this will be very soon, within the next month.
The original draft bill has been amended in keeping with the recommendations of the Supreme Court. However, it still remains a threat to religious freedom.
Action taken / proposed
§ NCEASL Governing Council members and senior leaders have been meeting with members of the government and opposition parties to raise objections to the pending bill. Discussions were held with H.E. the President Mahinda Rajapaske and the Leader of the Opposition Mr. Ranil Wickremesingha. Other party leaders and key MPs are being met.
§ Lobbying MPs to raise objections to the bill during the debate in Parliament.
§ NCEASL sought expert legal advice and explored the possibility of filing a fresh petition in court if the pending bill is not in conformity with the amendments prescribed by the Supreme Court. However, it was concluded that there wasn’t sufficient grounds to pursue this course of action.
§ International lobbying and awareness with embassies, governments, Christian human rights organizations and Christian MPs worldwide.
§ Press releases, briefs and updates to key organizations and government officials. It is not possible to share in depth on the above lobbying efforts, due to obvious reasons.
§ Awareness campaigns with local churches. We need your cooperation in distributing and sharing information about the bill with your congregation. NCEASL will provide handbills with information, as we did in 2004 and 2005.
§ Day of Prayer – 25th January 2009.
Please join us in setting aside Sunday 25th January 2009 as a special day of prayer in your church, against the anti-conversion bill.
Our human efforts may be frail and futile, but let us not be discouraged, but do our best, trusting in God that His good and perfect will for the church in Sri Lanka will prevail.
In His service,